Icon A5 accident

The Icon A5 is probably one of the most hyped aircraft of recent years – a stylish, amphibious  Light Sport Aircraft carrying over US$85 million in investment over the last 10 years or so.

It uses the ubiquitous Rotax 912ULS (100hp) engine in a 2-seat pusher configuration and sports a highly designed automotive style cabin. All in all, it appears to be a beautiful and unusual aircraft – although at US$389,000, there will be a limited number of people who have enough pennies to buy one.

The only problem is that out of a total of 22 delivered aircraft (so far), three have crashed, killing three people, including a couple of senior employees of the Icon company.

Here is a link to a YouTube video which, I think, fairly and in an unemotional way describes the aircraft and the three accidents very well. It also makes some suggestions as to what may be the factors which have contributed to this extraordinarily high accident rate in what is probably one of the most tested new aircraft on the planet.

Click on the photo above or here for the video: Icon A5 accidents

Rotax 912 series oil filter – new service bulletin

Rotax has issued a new mandatory service bulletin covering their oil filters – SB-912-071.

Due to a manufacturing deviation, the sealer gasket on the oil filter may leak, causing possible loss of oil pressure and oil.

If your 912ULS engine number is within the series from S/N 9 569 542 up to S/N 9 569 782 inclusive, or you have service replaced your oil filter since June 2017, you need to check the filter. If it has a green mark in the specified location, the filter is OK. If not, check for leakage and if any is seen, the filter must be replaced immediately. Even if there is no visible leak, the filter must also be replaced immediately on listed engines.

If there is no green mark on the filter, no leakage and the engine is not listed, the filter should be replaced within 25 engine running hours or within 200 days from 01 November 2017, whichever occurs sooner.

Here is a link to the service bulletin which gives full details: SB-912-071
Here is a link to the listed 912UL & 912ULS engines affected: SB-912-071UL

The man who got me started on Foxbats

Back in 2001, I went for my first demo flight in an Aeroprakt A22 Foxbat – piloted by Gordon Faulkner, the then UK agent for the aircraft. I ordered a Foxbat and, when soon after, I told him I was moving to live in Australia he encouraged me to ask the factory if I could represent them in Australia, and gave me good reference. Gordon had lived in Victoria for a few years and had many fond recollections of his flying in Australia.

The factory agreed to appoint me as their dealer in Australia and the rest, as they say, is history.

So I was interested to read this letter about Gordon in the latest issue of the UK’s ‘Microlight Flying’ magazine (click on the picture above – Gordon’s the one on the right – to download a readable copy of ‘The man’s a gent’). It fully matches my own experiences of Gordon, from his considerable help with building my first Foxbat, through to training me to fly it.

Over the years since then, I have lost contact with Gordon. But a big thank you to the man who set me on the road to what has been an exciting and rewarding journey representing the Aeroprakt factory in Australia.

Urgent Rotax safety bulletin

Rotax has issued an urgent and mandatory service bulletin on their 912/914 series engines. It applies to a limited selection of engines built between June 2016 and October 2017 – check your Foxbat/Vixxen 912ULS engine number against the list below to see if you are affected.

(A) from S/N 6 785 971 up to S/N 6 786 198 inclusive
(B) from S/N 6 786 501 up to S/N 6 787 000 inclusive
(C) from S/N 9 569 001 up to S/N 9 569 690 inclusive
(D) from S/N 9 569 693 up to S/N 9 569 702 inclusive
PLUS S/N 9 569 823

In summary
Rotax reports that deviations in the manufacturing process of the valve push-rod assembly may cause partial wear on the rocker arm ball socket. This wear could lead to a rocker arm cracking/fracture which in consequence may lead to a malfunction of the valve train. Possible effects are rough engine running or an unusual engine operating behaviour.

The bulletin requires the removal of the rocker covers of affected engines and an inspection – and if needed, replacement – of the valve pushrods.

In simple terms, if the pushrod ends are a silver-ish colour, they are OK. If they are black they will need to be replaced.

Time frame for completion of the bulletin is:
– either at the next scheduled service
– or if a scheduled service is not due, within the next 25 hours of engine running time
– or if 25 hours running time is not completed, by 30 April 2018 at the latest

Here are links to the Bulletins:
What needs to be done: https://legacy.rotaxowner.com/si_tb_info/serviceb/sb-912-070.pdf
Which engines are affected: https://legacy.rotaxowner.com/si_tb_info/serviceb/sb-912-070ul.pdf

If you believe your engine is affected, please contact Bert Flood Imports, the Australia Rotax engine agent, for more information.
Bert Flood Imports phone number is: 03 9735 5655

Elderly pilots – 10 tips to keep flying

This one is a bit long, but well worth reading through to the 10 tips at the end. Thanks to Peter Kelsey for the words.

Wing Commander Ken Wallis (courtesy Gary Brown)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

None of us is as young as we were and those of us distinctly nearer to the cemetery than the crib may be less competent pilots than we once were.
Greater experience and good currency may serve to compensate adequately for poorer reaction times and worsening cognitive skills but there will come a time when the sensible thing is to accept that continuing to fly as Pilot In Command (PIC) is risky and foolish. Continue by all means with someone else as PIC if you like but continuing in command and putting yourself, your passengers, your friends and your family at risk of a catastrophe because of your refusal to recognise the significantly reduced state of your abilities may be folly. When is the right time and what can you do to postpone it?

When should you stop?
26 years of age was generally regarded as the maximum for a new pilot to join an RAF fighter squadron during World War II. Beyond that watershed the poor old chap would probably not have quick enough reactions to survive although experienced fighter pilots of greater age could counter their slower reaction times with better anticipation.
55 is regarded by many as signalling another stage at which Commercial Air Transport (CAT) and General Aviation (GA) pilots should start asking themselves whether they are still able to hack it as well as they used to. 60 was often the compulsory retirement age for airline pilots until they were more recently allowed to continue to 65 provided that the other pilot in a two person crew was less than 60. This extension made no difference to accident rates. Nonetheless, somewhere around the 55 to 65 years stage pilots need to accept that, much like the engine on a certified aircraft, they have passed their TBO and further use must depend upon condition.
Insurers of GA aircraft have concerns about elderly pilots, especially those past 80 and/or flying only a few hours each year. On the other hand, in Air Facts (a US publication) Opinion of October 2011, Bob Claymore, Executive Vice President of United Flying Octogenarians, writes, unsurprisingly, under the heading: Older Pilots are Safe Pilots. However, he does accentuate the importance of diet and exercise if you want to continue in good working order.
Originally built in 1934 and fitted with a new fuselage in 1938 after a mishap on landing, this DH.83 Fox Moth is still flying.  It is kept serviceable by careful maintenance and tender loving care.
Recreational pilots have no retirement age and on the face of it they can go on for ever if they can pass their periodic medical and the flight with an instructor. As for the medical,  even  the   EASA Class  1   level concentrates mostly on the physical rather than the mental. Answering the questions about your own and your parents’ mental problems, your weekly consumption of alcohol, when you gave up smoking and then managing to write out the cheque are not that searching an investigation of your cognitive skills under stress.
So there remains a cohort of GA pilots who have made it through the various filters and are ‘legal’. Some of these may find themselves and/or their families still wondering whether the time has yet come to hang up the headset. And some may be attracted to Abelard’s prayer, Give me chastity O Lord – but not yet. The issue becomes increasingly important as the proportion of elderly pilots within the aviation community increases year upon year. This is partly the consequence of the ever increasing expectation of life and better health amongst the elderly and partly less availability of spare time from work and family commitments among those of working age.

Having researched the views of various authorities I can tell you that the question of continuing flying into old age is complex, involving numerous factors, many incapable of even approximate quantification. It is clear that at some time after age 55 competence will have fallen off to such a degree that it is no longer sensible to keep flying as PIC. For some that age will be early and for others late. I can recall interviewing at his home in Norfolk Ken Wallis, inventor and builder of the Wallis autogyro amongst many other creations. Accurately described as a cross between Biggles and Professor Branestawm he was at the time, in his early nineties, incensed at the CAA for withdrawing his display licence. In a hangar at the back of the house he kept his ‘harem’ of 16 or so autogyros and he would regularly wheel one of them out to take off from the parkland that surrounded his house. One of the harem, Little Nellie, had featured in the Bond film You Only Live Twice with Ken as stunt pilot. He considered himself, and probably was, entirely capable of continuing to display at local fetes but now the CAA were putting a stop to his charitable fund raising. My sympathies were with the CAA official, unwilling to risk a summons to the top floor of Aviation House in the event of an incident and an outraged reaction in the Press. Ken continued to fly regularly until nearer his death at the age of 97.

Elderly drivers
Elderly pilot issues are very similar to elderly driver issues. Indeed when it comes to the chances of causing death or injury to a third party the inadequate car driver must present an enormously greater risk to the general public than the inadequate private pilot. While analyses of accidents involving elderly pilots are few and far between, the much greater database of road accidents is a valuable source of statistical evidence.

To quote from Older drivers: An RAC Foundation perspective:
How safe are older drivers?
‘The car is undoubtedly important for facilitating mobility in old age, but there are often concerns about the safety of older drivers behind the wheel. In fact, today’s older drivers are no less safe than their middle age counterparts. The misconception
that the elderly are dangerous when behind the wheel is a function of their overrepresentation in the casualty statistics – older
motorists do not tend to have more accidents but their frailty means that they are more likely to be seriously hurt or killed when they do.
Until the age of 80, older drivers are only at greater risk of injury for every mile driven because frailty increases with age. It is only when drivers are over the age of 80 and/or travel less than about 2,000 miles a year that there is any type of increased risk due to driving ability. There may be an increased risk for drivers with certain illnesses although the effect of conditions such as progressive dementia has yet to be conclusively proved.’
While driving is not the same thing as flying it does call for similar skills and it is reasonable to expect corresponding similitude in the loss of a competence that was once taken for granted.

What are the particular problems associated with elderly pilots?
The Air Safety Foundation of AOPA USA has considered a substantial body of American literature on this subject and summarised this in a useful report: ‘Aging and the GA pilot’. Search for the report under its title. Page no’s from the report are shown against quotes below. Refer to the Selected Resources section at pp 25 to 39 of the report for the sources of quotations in this article.
However, even within the much larger US GA scene there is a shortage of hard information about the competence of elderly pilots. Nonetheless, accident statistics have been analysed and tests in simulators carried out. The report quotes from a research paper by Pamela Tsang as follows (p 11):
“The psychological literature shows definite age-related changes in certain cognitive functions that have been identified to be essential for flight performance (e.g., perceptual processing, certain aspects of memory performance, and certain psychomotor control).  The cognitive functions that do not yet exhibit clear effects of age tend to be the more complex ones that involve several stages of information processing such as problem solving, decision making, and time-sharing. On the one hand, there are ample data to suggest that the more complex the performance, the larger the age effect tends to be. On the other hand, complex performance developed through extensive training is found to be more resistant to negative age effects. Since expertise in many complex job performances, including flying, tend to develop with experience and age, the interactive effects of age and experience and their relative contributions need to be carefully studied.”
A salient problem is radio communication. This may result from failing short term memory or maybe loss of hearing when stressed is the cause. Radio communication is the area in which aging itself has the most obvious and measurable impact (p 12). This suggests that inadequate R/T may serve as an early warning of failing flying competence.

The report summarises the big picture as follows (p 13):
… different pilots experience the aging process differently, and compensate for it (or fail to) in a variety of different ways. There are, no doubt, certain commonalities among older pilots, but in the broad view it seems that    individual  factors—experience, proficiency, physical fitness, genetics—come together to play a much greater role than chronological age in determining a given pilot’s ability to fly safely on a given day.
The report also quotes from a research paper prepared by Richard Golaszewski for the FAA and others in 1983 on The influence of total flight time, recent flight time and age on pilot accident rates. “… For low values of recent flight times, older pilots exhibit higher accident rates. … Accident rates increase with age when recent flight time is less than 50 hours per year.”

Here are some steps that you might take to keep flying safely into old age:
1. Fly frequently or not at all.

2. Physical health is crucial. Diet and exercise are all important here.

3. Note the gist of every instruction/clearance from Air Traffic before reading it back. When, two minutes later, you cannot recall what the precise altitude limitation was your note will tell you.

4. Fatigue is an increasing pitfall for the ageing pilot. Recognise that you cannot competently do as much you used to do five or ten years ago and limit your hours per day accordingly.

5. Cut out the more demanding sorts of flying – fly a simpler aircraft (after good type conversion training) – give up night flying and flying in marginal weather.

6. Use ATC and radar more. Accept that you are more prone to wander stupidly without a clearance into controlled airspace than you used to be. Get a Traffic Service and the extra protection from doing something stupid that this will provide. Failing that a Listening Squawk will be better than nothing.

7. Carry a Personal Collision Avoidance System (PCAS) or other electronic proximity warning device. Your eyesight is not as good as it was.

8. Get a noise cancelling headset. Your hearing is not what it was either.

9. Give yourself plenty of time for preflight work – NOTAMs, weather, performance, weight and balance, preflight checks and passenger briefings need to be considered without any time pressures. Avoid in flight decision making challenges by already having in place alternative plans to deal with eventualities such as adverse weather.

10. Consider flying with another pilot. In this way workload can be shared although it will be important that neither of you is ever uncertain as to who is the Pilot In Command at any time.

How might you keep flying safely?
Perhaps the most compelling pointer here is that if you are inclined to fly at all as an elderly pilot then you should either do it frequently or not at all.  In most recreational fields the elderly tend to ease off in frequency as their age advances but when it comes to flying it seems that this is quite the wrong approach.  I am reminded of an acquaintance, a former WW Spitfire pilot with three operational tours, who wanted to keep driving into his eighties and nineties so he always made sure that he drove at least every other day.

My brother’s keeper
Younger readers may not feel concerned personally with these thoughts just yet but may nonetheless find themselves thinking of some other pilot about whose competence they have doubts. Few of us would have the temerity to approach another pilot in cold blood and suggest that if it is time that they considered retirement but failing to do anything is failing in your duty to that pilot, their potential passengers and to the GA community at large. A better alternative is to discuss the position with other pilots, especially instructors. While an approach by another younger and probably less experienced pilot may be dismissed as insolence a similar approach by several pilots as an agreed body or a CFI would be very difficult to ignore. If you have your doubts about an elderly pilot’s competence you have a duty to perform and you would not want to come to regret having done nothing to prevent a subsequent disaster.

Aeroprakt factory visit

Once again, I have pleasure in visiting the Aeroprakt factory in Kiev, Ukraine. This must be my 4th or 5th visit since I became their dealer for Australia. The factory seems busier than ever, with 12-15 aircraft on the production line as Aeroprakt ramps up to meet the world-wide demand for their aircraft. I hear they will be announcing the production of their 1,000th aircraft later this year.

Needless to say, there are some new developments in the pipeline, aimed at extending even further the use and operation of both A22 and A32 aircraft. For example, the A32L (450kgs gross weight) is in the final stages of ultralight certification in Germany; it just successfully completed a very stringent control surfaces flutter test. Although the certification applies directly to the A32L, the results of the tests will also be used, where appropriate, to the 600 kgs gross A32 (LSA) which we market in Australia.

I’ve met some old friends – Yuriy and Oleg, the two Aeroprakt principals, as well as Alex and Nina, who I communicate with regularly and frequently! I also met for the first time, Aleksander, Aeroprakt’s dealer for Poland and some other EU countries, and his two colleagues, Maciek and Jacub. Last but not least, I also met Artem, to whom I occasionally send merchandise and returned parts – he was also kind enough to meet me at the airport.

Kiev at this time of year is warm and beautiful, much like any other cosmopolitan city. I always find it fascinating to visit a place where I don’t even understand the alphabet, let alone speak the language. To my partner’s consternation, I don’t get to go anywhere near the shops during this visit, as time is short and there is so much to talk about and do!

Soon it will be time to get on the plane and return – temporarily – to a forecast rainy London.

Ballooning & floating?

Probably the most common comments I get from student pilots – and quite a few experienced pilots too – are about their perceived skills needed to land a light sport/recreational aircraft. In many cases, pilots make comments like: “I pulled back on the controls to flare and the aircraft just ballooned” or “it just seems to float and float along the runway; it just doesn’t want to land”.

Both of these events when landing an aircraft – ballooning and floating – have their own dangers for the pilot, which if not anticipated and handled correctly can result in a bent aeroplane…or worse.

So here are a few tips on how to get it right.

In simple terms, almost all balloons and floats during landing are caused by excess speed over the landing threshold. Unfortunately, many instructors have a habit of telling their students to add 5 or 10 knots to their approach speed ‘for safety’. In reality, in light sport aircraft in ‘normal’ conditions, they are often actually reducing the margin of landing safety by doing so. And this habit of adding speed to the book figure becomes instilled as a very hard-to-break habit. My own pilot training, now many many years ago, involved adding approach speed in certain circumstances and, even now, I have to fight the impulse to add speed when landing in the A22LS Foxbat and A32 Vixxen.

Let’s go ballooning
So, what’s wrong with more speed? There are two main reasons but first, remember light sport and recreational aircraft are very low weight (read: low inertia) aircraft. So, like a small car, these types of aircraft will change direction much more quickly than a limo, a ute or a truck. Not that I’m suggesting your average Cessna/Piper etc are trucks…. As a result, when landing, the controls are much more effective than bigger GA aircraft. At only slightly faster speeds the controls are even more powerful, so if you are too fast when you pull back to flare, the aircraft will not just flare, it will start to climb again, even with the engine at idle. This is called ‘ballooning’. When you go ballooning, the impulse is to push the nose down to reduce the sudden climb. Unless you are very quick (and/or experienced) you’re likely in for a bent nose leg and/or busted propeller. Another alternative, just holding back the controls during the balloon, can result in a stall from an ‘unsuitable’ height above the runway, leading to a (very) heavy landing, which could damage the landing gear or worse.

How about a bit of floating?
Next reason why too much speed is dangerous: even if you flare correctly without ballooning, the aircraft is still going too fast to land. Instructor: “Just try to skim the runway; don’t let the aircraft land; try to keep it flying as long as you can, slowly pulling back on the controls until the aircraft slows and the main wheels touch down”. This is all absolutely fine, unless you are carrying excess speed, in which case you’ll end up flying a long way down the runway before you touch down. And skimming along the tarmac (or grass) at relatively slow speed for a few hundred meters at just a few feet of height is tricky enough for an experienced pilot, let alone a novice. Throw in some cross wind, and/or a gust or two, and the risk of disaster rises exponentially! After a period of ‘skimming’ without landing, there is a huge temptation to let the nose drop a bit (or worse, push it down), just to get the wheels on the runway, and this can have two potential results: (a) because you’re still going too fast, the nose wheel touches down first and you’ll bounce/balloon, or (b) the impact will bend the nose leg and maybe bust the prop – if you’re lucky.

There are remedies for both ballooning and floating after they start but the easiest solution is not to let them happen at all!

Calculating the correct threshold speed
Which is where we get back to speed. There’s a GA rule of thumb about landing speed over the threshold. This says you should aim for about 1.3 times stall speed in landing configuration. As an example, with a stall speed of 45 knots the aim is (technically) 58.5 knots over the threshold – which is usually rounded to 60 knots. With low-inertia light sport aircraft, which have lower landing speeds, it’s probably safer to go for about 1.75 times stall speed, as wind gusts can be a much higher proportion of approach speed. So, for a stall speed of 28 knots (A22LS Foxbat) the threshold speed should be about 49 knots – which is exactly what the pilot manual gives. Note – this is 20 KNOTS above the stall speed!! If you come in at 55-60 knots over the threshold, you are flying about twice as fast as the stall speed – no wonder the aircraft is difficult to land!

What a drag
There are big differences in drag between aircraft. And drag affects how quickly the aircraft slows down when you throttle back for landing. The more the drag, the quicker the aircraft will slow down and vice-versa. To some extent, high-drag aircraft are easier to land than their more slippery siblings. As you cut power and round out to land, they will slow down more quickly, so if you are a few knots over the correct speed, they will help you out by slowing quickly. However, the more slippery the aircraft, the more accurate you need to be with the threshold speed; this is because if you are faster than you should be, the speed will not wash off quickly and ballooning and floating become much more likely.

As a comparison, our A22LS Foxbat is much much draggier than the A32 Vixxen. This is clearly evidenced in the fuel economy and cruise speeds. While the book figures for landing threshold speeds are much the same at 49 knots, coming in at 55 knots in the Foxbat will still allow you a reasonably easy landing. Try it in the Vixxen and because of its low-drag airframe, you’ll probably do a lot more floating. Add yet another 5 knots ‘for safety’ and even the Foxbat will take a while to land and the Vixxen will take you all the way down the runway into the fence at the end.

Landing weight
There’s an important additional piece of information needed here – the landing weight of the aircraft. All manufacturers quote stall speeds at maximum gross weight – for light sport aircraft, this is 600 kgs. If the stall speed is 28 knots at 600 kgs, it will be noticeably slower at (eg) 450 kgs actual weight, which in an A22LS Foxbat equates to the aircraft with one pilot and 50 kgs (70 litres) of fuel. In fact, it could be as much as 3-4 knots slower. Re-calculating the approach speed for this weight: (eg) 25 kts x 1.75 = 44 kts.

Hopefully, instructors  teach their students properly about the difference weight can make to stall – and thus landing – speeds. This is particularly important for light sport aircraft, where the pilot, passengers, fuel and baggage make up a much bigger proportion of the weight and therefore have a much more significant effect on speeds than heavier GA aircraft.

Wind
Finally, a point about wind. I’ve often heard it said you should add 5-10 knots to your approach speed if the wind is across the runway and/or gusty. The idea being that if the wind suddenly drops during your approach, the aircraft is still going fast enough to keep flying above stall speed. In heavier GA aircraft, this may well be valid, as using the throttle to regain speed to arrest the momentum of a sudden descent takes time. However, modern light sport aircraft are much more responsive to throttle than their older GA counterparts, so I would never add more than 5 knots to the ‘book’ approach speed in a cross or gusty wind and use the throttle to stop descent quickly if a sudden drop occurs due to a gust.

In summary – read the pilot manual for your aircraft to check the threshold speed for that specific type – do not rely on rules of thumb, like “all aircraft are OK at 60 knots” down final and over the threshold. If the manual gives 49 knots at gross weight stick to it and – if it’s a light sport aircraft – even a bit slower if you do not have a passenger and/or lots of fuel. If you don’t stick to the book speeds, you are looking for trouble and for sure, you’ll end up ballooning or floating and sooner or later you’ll bend something. Hopefully, not yourself or your passenger!